TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After hours of heated debate, the Florida House passed House Bill 7, a ban on critical race theory, on a party-line vote. The bill, if it clears a floor vote in the Senate, would next head to Gov. Ron DeSantis to be signed into law, or vetoed.
The bill is likely to be signed into law, with DeSantis already publicly supporting of the bill’s impacts. House Bill 7, entitled “Individual Freedom,” would, according to the legislature, “expand” the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 and protections of the Florida Educational Equity Act.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis first announced the idea behind the legislation at a December 2021 event in Wildwood, Fla., where he called it the “Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids And Employees Act,” or “Stop WOKE Act,” which would codify current state Department of Education bans on critical race theory into law.
According to Merriam-Webster, critical race theory, or CRT, is “a group of concepts (such as the idea that race is a sociological rather than biological designation, and that racism pervades society and is fostered and perpetuated by the legal system) used for examining the relationship between race and the laws and legal institutions of a country and especially the United States.”
HB 7 would ban teaching racially-focused curriculum and prevent tests from educational curriculum or workplace trainings of including the lessons in that way.
Critics of the bill say the legislation would create new avenues for businesses to face litigation and change curriculum to “mask history” instead of teaching what the bill’s opponents call a more accurate account.
“By rewriting that section of the bill, this legislature is opening up all of our small businesses in this state to a whole new round of litigation. just look at what’s in this bill. it talks about training on these issues and how do they feel,” Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg said during the floor debate. “If people go through these trainings and have an emotional reaction, they are aggrieved, they are upset…they can sue their employer.”
Those in support of the bill say they don’t believe its effects would be what has been decried as a false narrative of American history, instead criticizing the rhetoric surrounding the bill’s opposition.
“What frustrates me the most about this bill is the narrative that’s created. The false rhetoric that keeps coming up. Because as someone who is an expert in education, and is an expert in the teaching of history, there is nothing that alarms me or frustrates me about this bill,” Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Titusville, a former teacher, said. “But remember our words do have consequences. Our false narratives have consequences. So we should be mindful in how we use them, and make sure that we’re talking about this bill at hand.”
Debate on the House floor was heated from the start. Rep. Kristen Arrington, D-Kissimmee focused her opposition to the legislation on the grounds of how it restricts business freedoms and could turn people away from visiting the state.
“The role of the hospitality industry is to welcome all kinds of people. If we are unable to train our employees, we are going to cripple our businesses and set them up for failure to lose customers. Also, we heard large companies called out like Disney, Coke and American Express for their training and practices,” Arrington said. “What message are sending to businesses that want to move to Florida or expand? Why are we putting these strict regulations on private businesses? Where is this free Florida I keep hearing about?”
HB 7 states it constitutes discrimination to subject any student or employee — or any individual “as a condition of employment, membership, certification, licensing, credentialing, or passing an examination” —to any training or instruction that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe any of the following concepts”:
- Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of another
- An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously
- An individual’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, sex, or national origin
- People cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, sex, or national origin
- An individual bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin
- An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion
- An individual bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin
- Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, sex, or national origin to oppress members of another
Tampa Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell said the bill, and the now-passed HB 1557 which prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, are examples of Florida making sure the American notion of “Liberty and Justice for all” from the Pledge of Allegiance is not met.
“The truth is there is not liberty for all, not yet. Not yet, we’re working on it, but not yet. And we in Florida are making sure of that. You don’t get the same liberty if you’re facing one of the hardest, most challenging decisions in your life,” Driskell said. “You don’t get the same liberty if you are an LGBTQ youth in our schools, and you do not get the same liberty if you are a member of an oppressed community of color and I am tired of being gaslit.”
Driskell said the bill didn’t “manifest out of thin air,” and is instead part of an effort to suppress the stories and history of Florida’s communities of color.
Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, R-St. Augustine said she agreed with points made by both sections of lawmakers debating the bill, but disagreed with some of their conclusions about what the proposed law would do.
“We absolutely need to understand our history and the differences and different experiences people have had. There have been many people who have sacrificed, been pushed down, been exploited, over the years over centuries of time. We know, we know when we study history that groups of people, other people, that treat a group as not individuals but ‘them,'” Stevenson said. “That is the beginning of abuse, it enables people to do horrendous things to each other. And when that is passed generation to generation, after a while, they may not even know where it began, and why. That is why this bill is important. And the way we talk about this bill is so different.”
Stevenson said the bill would not ban books, but instead just directs Florida schools to use age-appropriate materials to describe historical events. She simplified it down to an oft-used line of the bill itself.
“It does not allow claims that one race, color, sex or national origin is superior over another,” Stevenson said.
HB 7 passed on a 74-41 vote margin, four members of the Florida House abstained. Now passed through the chamber, it heads to the Senate for a similar voting and debate process, before it eventually heads to the governor. While it is not guaranteed the bill will pass both chambers, it is expected to pass the full legislature along a party-line vote.